The young, fit, and the injured: How to keep Gen Z workers safe

By Heather Chapman, MS, CSP, CHMM, CEAS

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Compared to older generations who may be facing issues like arthritis or injury, young people are likely to be more mobile and flexible, making them more resilient in physically challenging, industrial work. However, somewhat counterintuitively, Gen Z injury rates in blue-collar positions are noticeably higher compared to other generations. In fact, the highest rate of injury is seen with workers between the ages of 18-24, who are experiencing emergency-room injuries at a rate of 2.3 injuries per 100 full-time equivalents — a factor that may be driving the youngest working generation away from these positions.

Organizations are facing a multi-pronged dilemma – they’re undergoing a skilled labor crisis and they’re trying to recruit, retain and support a workforce generation that they may not fully understand. Additionally, for the younger people they can retain, OSHA fines and worker’s compensation rates only continue to increase over time – making the future workforce very costly. Not to mention, protecting employees from injury for the sake of their well-being should be the top concern of organizations.

What do employers need to know about younger workers? 

For employers to create safer workplaces for their Gen Z employees, they need to understand how the generation feels about working in industrial settings. According to a recent survey, 25% of Gen Zers believe work conditions are unsafe in industrial jobs and 14% feel benefits aren’t good, representing an ingrained assumption that the job isn’t safe and that employers don’t value employees by offering appropriate benefits.

Understanding this predisposed sentiment is vital for employers to communicate safety procedures, benefits and policy updates effectively to reach their younger audiences.

Bosses and managers specifically must also have a clear understanding of how their Gen Z workers think, as they’re usually the first point of contact between employee and human resources or decision-makers. As such, it’s critical they understand that 20% of Gen Z prioritize manager support for their work/life balance. Additionally, 13% ideally want their manager to provide a safe space to voice their ideas and concerns, representing that Gen Z wants to have a safe relationship with their bosses that allows for open communication.

So, how can employers create a safe space for workers both physically and mentally?

  1. Take the boring out of safety conversations. Younger generations tend to have shorter attention spans as they often are focused on numerous things at once with the abundance of push notifications they get every day. With this in mind, make safety conversations engaging and concise. Skip the Monday morning or Friday afternoon hour-long safety training and the do-it-on-your-own-time virtual sessions. It’s time to get creative – consider segmenting safety conversations into multiple and regular meetings that are shorter and interactive. Gamification also appeals to Gen Z, and rewarding those with the best safety records is another way to make safety awareness fun. Encourage employees to participate by asking or answering questions and having an open forum to express any concerns if they have them (because we know that’s important to them).


  1. Keep communication clear and intentional. We know that younger people assume that industrial jobs aren’t safe, so it’s up to employers to communicate their priorities when it comes to safety to first and foremost show workers it’s top of mind. Secondly, employers need to be able to follow through with what they promise – so being intentional with what they’re telling employees matters. Say what you (as an organization) mean, do as you say.


  1. Validate opinions and efforts.By recognizing the legitimacy of worker concerns, young people will feel more trusting of their leaders. Even more importantly, by validating their opinions, Gen Z workers will feel more confident and empowered to creatively problem solve, benefitting their personal career growth as well as an organization’s goals. Make sure they understand why their job is valuable – young people care deeply to know they are doing something for the greater good of the environment and society. Show them that they have an integral role in that effort.


  1. Lean into solutions that take the load off (literally). Technology and automation are important tools for young people, and there is ample opportunity to apply such tools to improve physical safety for workers. We’re seeing organizations starting to implement new tools such as wearable gadgets that monitor ergonomic movement, humanoid robots to mimic the tedious and physically grueling tasks, and more. If you’re not already leaning into some form of technology, you’re behind the curve – it is essential to keep up with the interests of our next generation of workers as well as industry standards.


It’s great to see how the industrial and manufacturing industries have evolved in regard to safety; however, we’ve hit a new turning point which is to develop safety measures and plans that speak to or resonate with different groups of workers. Knowing that these measures will vary across groups is the first step — there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to safety.

More employers will need to assess the most effective and efficient measures when it comes to safety as standards rise, and all answers circle back to understanding both that Gen Z is a unique worker demographic and that technology is a critical path to gaining (and sustaining) their attention. Devices like wearable technology are reducing injury in warehouses and other industrial workplaces by more than 50%. Now it’s time to cast the net wider and reach an age group that is experiencing injury at a higher rate with a holistic approach, satisfying their needs as well as preventing injury.